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Students explore cybersecurity concerns, careers

Friday, January 6, 2017

Students at Pikes Peak Early College in District 49 learn about cybersecurity.

Students at Pikes Peak Early College in District 49 learn about cybersecurity.

About 30 Pikes Peak Early College students gathered on Dec. 14 to learn about an emerging career option -- cybersecurity.
The students from the El Paso County school district heard a presentation from Scott Nelson, vice president of program operations at SecureSet Academy. 
“We’re vulnerable as a nation, and cybersecurity is how we’ll strengthen the backbone of our country,” Nelson said, sharing the latest statistics concerning a gap in skills. One report revealed 84 percent of employers believe half or fewer of cybersecurity applicants are qualified. Another declared a global shortage of 2 million cybersecurity professionals by 2019.

As a career military officer and graduate of the U.S. Army War College, Nelson is well versed in threats to national security. He explained vulnerabilities to critical infrastructure, the assets, systems and networks with a great impact on national security, economic vitality, as well as public health and safety.

“With cybersecurity, there are not enough people to fill the employment demand,” he said. One-in-four organizations have experienced an advanced persistent threat on IT systems. By 2020, the average cost of a data breach is expected to hit $150 million, he said.

Students at Pikes Peak Early College know how to create online content — at least one is already an accomplished app developer — but few truly consider security, according to teacher Katrina Craig, who took a cybersecurity “bootcamp” last July. That training session stressed a need to get K-12 students excited about cybersecurity. SecureSet Academy and STEMsCO had won a $100,000 federal grant from Generation Cyber to provide summer camps for teachers and students.

GenCyber is a program spearheaded by the National Security Agency and National Science Foundation. It was formed to grow and improve cybersecurity education in the United States.

“Our students today are getting a hands-on experience in a field that they may have never experienced before,” said Craig. “For most, they’re getting exposed to a whole new world in computing.”

During the training session, ninth-grader John Nogle, 14, and 10th-grader Faith Parker, 15, hacked into a mock college website. They searched its HTML and CSS code to find vulnerabilities in the PHP scripts reading and writing to a MySQL database.

After John and Faith showed a successful data breach, they were instructed to find a means to change student grade variables.

While John was considering a career in radio or computers, Faith was interested in a political career. She wanted to learn more about how the increasing concern of cyberwarfare could impact political discourse and public elections.

“As President of the United States, you wouldn’t want to just read a speech about a cyberattack,” said Faith. “You need to really understand this stuff.”

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